While Mother Nature has been rather stingy with snowfall over the past few years (at least in California…) our dedicated mountain crews have been quietly saving the day. This year’s opening day was no exception, as the Unbound Crew up at Mammoth Mountain built a park that considerably raised the stoke level and got us ready to come back for more.
I decided it was about time we all learn a bit more about the team responsible for making opening weekend awesome, so I caught up with TJ Dawoud, Manager of the Mammoth Unbound Terrain Parks.
Needless to say, after talking shop, I’m ready to see everything for myself — which will be sooner than later as I’m typing this up while moving 75 miles per hour north on Highway 395…
Tim Feess: It’s great to have you with us today. Before we get started, do you mind telling us a little bit about your background and journey?
TJ Dawoud: I grew up in Connecticut and was always on the mountain. I learned to ski when I was five. When snowboarding got big, I was about 10 and made the jump, and just fell in love with it. I did it as much as humanly possible, riding every night after school at Ski Sundown in Connecticut. A few years out from high school I made the decision to move to Vermont where I got my first opportunity to take on snowcat operations at Mount Snow.
The season ended each year around April and one day me and my brothers decided to head west. We hit Utah, Coloradom and eventually ended at Mammoth Mountain, a place we had always seen in magazines and videos where the season kept going until 4th of July. Every year we kept making this trip until one year we just made the move permanent. Orin Tanzer got me a job doing cats at June and next chance got in here at Unbound. It’s a dream job.
The park looked great on opening day and was even sweeter by Sunday. For anyone who missed it, what did you guys have set up? Anything new coming this weekend?
Yeah! I have to give a lot of credit to our snowmaking team for this one. They are a huge part of making all of this possible. After the storm system that came through beginning of November, the company really capitalized on conditions, allocated resources and made it happen. They gave us what we needed to shape a cool setup not just in the park but for the everyday groomer skiers, the race team, everyone. Made the full experience as good as humanly possible.
In the years I’ve been here I’ve learned the most important part of this job comes with building relationships with every member of the Mammoth community: every department head, cat crew member, day crew member, ski patroller, to the snowmakers, to the riders and guests that come out each weekend. It’s a big family that works together to accomplish one goal — making Mammoth as fun and exciting as possible for the public.
This past weekend we were able to set up 10 jibs and a 10-foot jump in Main Park as our initial product. One I particularly liked was a brand new street-style feature in lower Main. Highly visual, realistic set up, that keeps us competitive and in front of the trends. So much more hand work that goes into this one but that’s where the park is going — a bigger day crew (more hands on attention) all working around the clock to keep Unbound clean, safe, and constantly evolving.
Video Credit: Colin Farrell
This coming weekend we will be expanding the feature list as we’ve been able to blow a ton of snow over the past week. Expect to see the lower section of Main Park running out to Chair 6, which will be spinning, and a few new terrain features.
We want to know more about what it takes to build one of the world’s best terrain parks. I’m sure the team behind you plays a big role. How many park shapers do you have on staff? What level of experience do most of your teammates have?
In times of full operation, we have 30 people on staff, comprised of 15 Cat Operators and 15 on Day Crew. For opening weekend, we built the park with less than that. The park basically came together in the four days leading up to the opener.
What was the biggest challenge in getting the park up and running this opening weekend?
The quality of snow. We were able to keep it all open and safe with no rocks or obstacles, but the snow was sticky and really hard to shape. It took a whole lot of hand work to make everything smooth and fun, so that was a big obstacle to overcome. This actually brings me to a good point – we’ve added to our day crew this year and that’s probably our biggest improvement as a team. We will be much more hands on when it comes to intraday maintenance and I think that’s a huge deal. Snowcats can get you to 98%, but attention to detail in that last 2% can make or break a guest’s experience. They will be instrumental in helping us build and upkeep the new, more customized features I mentioned before that will ultimately keep Mammoth’s Unbound internationally competitive.
What’s the most rewarding part of being in charge of a world-class terrain setup?
The excitement level is just non-stop. It’s cliche and people say it all the time but it’s a fucking dream job. Pardon my French but this is my dream job. When I was younger, when I was 20 years old my brothers and I were so passionate about riding and building jumps, it was our life, it was what we did. Being a part of the effort that takes place at Mammoth, a place we were in awe of as kids, is surreal. There’s a huge heritage and culture around riding here and I get seriously excited just watching small kids get pumped in the parks for the first time, then going and watching local rippers tear main park apart on a daily basis, learning new tricks that are absolutely insane.
What is it like working alongside some of the world’s best skiers/riders to collaborate on the park setup?
It’s absolutely incredible and critical to our progression as a venue. Riders push builders and builders push riders. Because of this dynamic, the progression in freestyle sports over the last 10 years has been insane. Features are getting bigger and simultaneously safer which is a winning combination.
We have evolved with the industry as a whole and at the hands of the people who ride, train, and compete here. There are very few places in the US where you can even find an 80 foot jump open to the public — but at Mammoth, you build that and it’ll get hit everyday and we love that and we do that. Without our amazing athletes, it’s safe to say the park would not be at the level it is today. Rider feedback is huge.
What’s the most important thing about the park crew at Mammoth that people don’t know?
We are a 24/7 operation from the start of the season through mid-spring. We have a day crew, a swing-shift cat crew, and a graveyard cat crew. All of these parts of the team are essential to our success and we never stop building and improving. This is what allows us to take in rider feedback and execute better features time in and time out.
Of all the events that you’ve prepared terrain for, what are you most proud of?
The Grand Prix last year was an insane challenge. Not gonna lie, that took everything we had to build. The organization made a decision that we were going for it, and we pulled it off and had great results, despite the effort coming down to the 11th hour. It was a battle with mother nature for sure, and we managed to maintain our will and confidence throughout the process. Huge team win pulling that off without a hitch.
It’s a bluebird spring day… where can we find you?
I love to ride the Snake Run in between South Park and Jibs Galore. It’s a really fast paced line with hits, berms, jibs, and more. For me, it’s super fun and exciting.